Just hours before the cauldron at Tokyo’s gleaming new National Stadium is lit with the Olympic flame, enthusiasm in Japan is waning for an event that was sold as an opportunity to highlight all that is good about the country.
Tokyo 2020 was going to showcase home-grown technology and achievements, as well as showing off the nation as a destination for millions more tourists. The Games were the chance to construct state-of-the-art infrastructure and further promote Japanese “soft power”- from Pikachu to Mario.
Tokyo 2020 was also going to symbolise the nation’s recovery from the devastating earthquake and nuclear disaster in north-east Japan in 2011.
The coronavirus pandemic has left the biggest dent in the reputation of the Games, scheduled to get under way with a two-and-a-half hour opening ceremony from 8pm local time on Friday.
But a litany of scandals and misfortune have plagued the event since the very outset and eroded initial public excitement.Even the government admits that much has gone wrong for the largest sporting event in Japan’s history, with Taro Aso, the deputy prime minister, bemoaning that the Olympics appeared to be “cursed” as the pandemic began its insidious spread around the world.
“I was pleased when Tokyo won the right to host the Games, but that seems a long time ago now”, said Kazuyuki Arai, a 62-year-old hospital cleaner, told The Telegraph on Wednesday this week.Sitting in a bar in the city’s Shibuya district on Wednesday – the last time he will be able to enjoy a beer in a bar after 8pm as the government is calling on bars to shut early until at least Aug 22 – Mr Arai says the soaring cost of the Games was the start of his disenchantment, but that escalated when the government and the International Olympic Committee refused to cancel the event outright as coronavirus cases spiked.“It is costing so much when that money could be better spent elsewhere,” Mr Arai said. “The pandemic has caused so many problems and hurt so many people. It has completely destroyed businesses. The Olympics money should have gone to help ordinary people.“And I do feel sorry for the athletes, but I believe the Games should have been cancelled completely because of the virus. It’s too dangerous. But they are about to start so it’s too late now.”Mr Arai shrugs.The Japanese government initially forecast that the Games would cost around £5.6 billion and its pitch to the IOC promised a compact and economical Olympics. More recent audits have suggested that the costs are significantly higher, possibly reaching £18.6 billion.Health authorities reported 1,832 new coronavirus cases in Tokyo on Wednesday, the highest single-day figure for more than six months and an increase of 683 cases from one week earlier.
Experts advising the city government warned the same day that a fifth wave of the pandemic is presently sweeping the city and that the situation in early August will be “critical far beyond the third wave”. Modelling suggests new cases will hit single-day records around 2,600 during the Games, putting the nation’s hospitals under intense strain.Masami Hikaru is a 21-year-old university student who was on his way to meet friends and says he is a huge basketball fan“I tried to get tickets for some of the basketball games because I think it is important to support your national team in an event like the Olympics – and especially when it is here in Japan”, he said.“But now they have banned all spectators, it feels a bit pointless”, he added. “It might as well be happening in another country because I still can’t go”.Miyuki Chiba says she has no interest in the Olympics and will not be watching any of the events on television.“I’m not interested in sport and I think it is a huge waste of money,” said Ms Chiba, 30, an office worker. She added that she was also “upset” by comments by Yoshiro Mori, who had to resign as head of the local organising committee in March after stating that having women on committees just dragged discussions out.
The comments by Mr Mori – a former prime minister – were far from the only self-inflicted wounds that have tainted the Games.There was an unsightly legal dispute with Zaha Hadid, the British architect, after her concept had been chosen for the new national stadium but was later replaced with a design by Kengo Kuma, while the creator of the first official logo of the Games was accused of plagiarism.French authorities launched an investigation in late 2018 into Tsunekazu Takeda, then president of the Japanese Olympic Committee, over allegations that gifts changed hands to win the support of a number of African nations for Tokyo’s bid to host the Games.The creative director of the opening ceremony had to resign after suggesting that a female celebrity be dressed as a pig and lowered into the stadium as part of the curtain-raiser, while just five days before the opening ceremony, the composer appointed to oversee the music at the opening ceremony stepped down after admitting to bullying mentally handicapped children when he was at school. On Thursday, another planner was fired after footage came to light of him making jokes about the Holocaust as part of his stand-up comic routine.
Opposition to the Olympics remains high, with 65 percent of people responding to a recent poll saying the Games cannot be held safely, despite the promises of the organisers.On Tuesday, a petition bearing nearly 140,000 signatures was submitted to the Tokyo city government calling for the Games to be called off, even at this late stage.“It is insane to go ahead with the Olympics under the current circumstances, where we are facing the spread of the coronavirus and other challenges”, said Chizuko Ueno, a prominent sociologist and one of the organisers of the petition.“We have seen the government completely ignore the voices of the people”, she said. “We will keep voicing our opposition until the very last minute”.
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